I must confess to a naughty little secret of mine. For many years, underneath my Catholic school uniform and shy girl disguise, I had a carnivorous appetite. This appetite was based on an insatiable lust for words and made me—whenever time permitted—want to jump on anything perfectly bound together. That I indulged this habit in the snug comfort of my bed, aka Mr. Snuggles, aka he’s sexy and he knows it—further enhanced this rampant mental debauchery.
When I entered higher learning, strangely enough, the intellectual breeding dulled this sense of mine. I started reading only what I had to read. But now, the little book slut in me, wants to recapture my days of intellectual whoredom. Obviously, a whore is only as good as she puts out, so I’ve decided to share my findings on this little old blog. This series will be my critique on books that I come across. I am certainly no “professional”—whatever the hell that means—but I do enjoy reading and have strong opinions.
As a rule, I generally do not limit my reading to one genre or type. Like there are folks who only read Young Adult Romance or New Age Underground Zombie stuff; my inner slut is too broad to be narrowed in my selections. I do however have preferences, and those tend to be historical non-fiction and most anything fiction, with the exception of vampires, monsters or any other sort of ghoulish fiends.
So my first selection is a book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Douglas A. Blackmon, called Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. I came upon this book in one of my classes this semester, and was truly blown away by it. One of the most frustrating aspects in how history is taught in school—particularly elementary and high school—is that it focuses mostly on the ruling classes—either the monarchy, or politicians. It’s the familiar tale of empires, their emperors, kings, presidents, politicians, and the rare queen. It is invariably watered down, devoid of real in depth complexities, and always the most sanitized version deemed suitable for students. The truth of the story behind history rarely gets told.
Blackmon in this book decides to tell one part of that story. The first thing he does is shatter the myth that slavery truly ended in the United States in 1865 after the Civil War. What he does in a very personable, articulate and sophisticated way, was show how the South managed to replace one form of slavery with another; this was mainly done through the convict leasing system. In a nutshell through a loophole in the 13th amendment that allows enslavement of people convicted of crimes, the South was able to create a system of laws that virtually criminalized all aspects of black life. For example, it was illegal for a black person to leave a white employer without permission; or if a black person was unemployed they could be charged with vagrancy and be convicted. However in many cases, just an accusation from a white person on anything was enough to be arrested. Once arrested a series of mock trials was conducted, usually by a local justice of the peace, and the person invariably was found guilty and fined. Since many African Americans did not have the means to pay those fines, a white person with some means would pay it off, and they were forced to work off “their debts.” This rarely happened, and many were held indefinitely; however the whole system was designed for re-enslavement of blacks on mass to work either on plantations or large corporate lumber mills, or railroads.
Aside from the actual process of re-enslavement, what was so disturbing was the shocking and grotesque amounts of violence—so horrid that 45 percent of black men died within the first four years of their capture. This has been argued to have been far worse than the period of Antebellum slavery, as the cheapness in which they could be acquired, as opposed to when they were formally slaves (one slave cost as much as a house – several hundred to thousand dollars in that time, while a convict could be obtained for as little as 20 dollars) made them all the more expendable.
Blackmon does in my opinion, an excellent job going into various areas—looking at the picture from all angles. The closing chapter is also interesting as he talks about his own experience researching into the matter, his personal connection, especially as a white southerner. His book was very balanced and provided a well-rounded perspective, and I think it could give Lincoln a run for its money. As far as satisfying my book whorish intellect—I would say it did so in spades.